By Dennis Linden
Here’s an easy to prepare pasta dish that highlights the simple flavors of fresh vegetables, submitted by Andre Conde, Melissa’s Packline Manager. The ingredient list for Andre’s dish is nothing fancy, with the exception of Melissa’s extremely special Sun-Dried Tomatoes, that is! Unlike much of Italian cuisine that relies on hours of simmering, Andre’s dish is weeknight dinner practical. Basically, the dish consists of a few common veggies and sautéed chicken strips that are cooked together in a light cream reduction sauce for a relatively short time, then tossed with pasta. That’s it! Andre relies on the natural flavors of fresh vegetables, laced with the traditional and obligatory support of Melissa’s Minced Garlic, for most all of this dish’s rich flavors.
“This dish was an inspiration from my grandfather. He has some experience in the kitchen and made his version of Chicken Linguine every now and then for as long as I can remember,” recalled Andre. “When I started making it on my own, I added a twist with the sun-dried tomatoes, cut the chicken into strips and increased the number of veggies. I am sure that the emphasis on fresh vegetables has been greatly influenced since working at Melissa’s where I have become much more conscious of eating healthy. In Italy I had the opportunity to try the traditional preparation of this dish. Obviously it does not get more genuine than being served the dish in a small café right in front of Rome’s Colosseum! So now I will prepare this recipe from time to time in cherished memory of both my grandfather and also my time in Rome.”
Whole pieces of chicken and vegetables, laid in a bed of pasta and smothered in an Alfredo sauce is the more traditional presentation of Andre’s dish – I like his version better! I have never been a big fan of heavy, creamy sauces as I think too many natural flavors of an ingredient can be overpowered by a sauce that seems to smother all with its richness. Andre’s use of half-and-half in the reduction literally reduces the role of this liquid to a supporting actor in the background, rather than the forefront, of this dish’s central flavor of fresh vegetables.
And those veggies are really the stars of the show! While I was limited to using regular green beans, due to quality and selection at my local grocer, both Yellow Wax and especially the tastier French bean would have been my preference – not complaining, I love tender, fresh green beans too! I could easily devour jars of Melissa’s flavorful Sun-Dried Tomatoes, so this ingredient is a no-brainer for me and really adds a wonderfully deep tomato accent to each bite. After browning the chicken separately then combining with the vegetables, simmer the mixture just long enough for the vegetables to cook through and most of the half-and-half has dissipated into a dark, thick liquid that will soon completely blend into the pasta.
Andre Conde has been Melissa’s Packline Manager for almost 3 years. Much of the fresh produce items marketed under the Melissa’s label arrive at our Los Angeles facility from our growing partners in bulk, fresh from the field. Andre oversees turning those shipments into consumer-sized packaging branded with our familiar carrot logo.
“The main focus of my workday is checking the quality of fresh produce as it arrives on our docks, supervising the re-packaging needed to fill the orders submitted by our Sales Department, as well as keeping them [Sales] informed on what inventories need to be sold,” Andre explained, adding, “Likewise that also means advising the buyers in Procurement when inventories need to be replenished. On the one hand, it’s all about the details--dotting all my “i’s” and crossing all my “t’s”--that’s the challenge and the key to each day going smoothly. Beyond all the numbers, though, this job has given me the opportunity to be exposed to an amazing array of fresh crops from all over the world that we receive daily. It is fascinating to learn the unique perishability characteristics as well as the handling and storage requirements of each item. Feedback from our retail customers helps me tremendously in correcting any handling issues. I learn something new almost every day!”
When Andre is not crunching the numbers at the office, he is an avid sports fan. Especially baseball (Dodgers), though both pro football (Philadelphia Eagles) and, of course, the local L.A. Lakers tie for very close second-favorites. He says that he also likes to take full advantage of the Southern California climate that includes lots of beach and lake time in the summer; switching to winter sports in the nearby mountains. However, Andre’s first, second and third love is travel.
“I have had the opportunity to visit France, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, twelve states and Canada as well as spending so much time in Mexico (Cancun 12 times) that I should qualify as at least a part-time resident!” Andre recounted. “Traveling continues to broaden my view of the world by opening my eyes to new things. I find it so interesting to learn about different cultures, especially trying different foods. Each trip I take makes for a scrapbook of very special memories that I can revisit for years to come without going anywhere!”
By the way, fresh linguine pasta should be the first choice for Andre’s recipe and can found in most retail Deli Departments. It cooks so much faster and simply tastes so much more…Italian! And if you must use dried linguine pasta, I was reminded of pasta cooking GOLDEN RULE ONE on a recent episode of CHOPPED, the addictive television program. A contestant, a supposed experienced chef, broke dried spaghetti pasta in half before tossing it into boiling water. NOT! The judges almost eliminated him while he was still prepping his dish; instead they waited, tasted and then summarily eliminated him for the infraction! All pasta comes in the form it is meant to be cooked. So don’t mess with the pasta gods, add a sprinkle of fresh Parmesan to taste and enjoy Andre’s dish after work tonight!
Chicken Linguine with Fresh Vegetables
4 boneless chicken breasts, skinned, cut into strips
2 TBS Melissa’s garlic, minced
1 ½ cups half and half
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 package (16 oz.) linguine pasta, cooked
2 cups broccoli, chopped
12 oz. fresh string beans, trimmed (Green, Yellow Wax or French beans)
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jar Melissa’s sun-dried Tomatoes
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
Sauté the chicken strips in a little olive oil in a large skillet, covered, for about 5 minutes. Then add in the minced garlic, half-and-half, plus salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes on low heat.
While chicken is cooking, prep all the vegetables, add to the chicken and continue simmering until the veggies are cooked through. At the same time cook the pasta separately to al dente.
Toss together the chicken-vegetable mixture with the pasta in a large mixing bowl. Serve family style or plate individually topped with fresh-grated Parmesan.